In 1883, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad built the Monte Cristo Hotel, just across the F Street bridge. At a cost of $38,000, it was also a railroad dining establishment, set up to take care of hungry travelers on stopover.
Charles Catlin moved to Salida in 1898 and took over management of the Monte Cristo. It was a fortuitous decision because along with the Monte Cristo, Charles inherited the dog that came with it.
Charles was good at his job; immediately it became clear that Salida’s social scene was now happening at the Monte Cristo. Dinners were luxurious affairs; one particular Easter supper included oysters on the half shell, leg of spring lamb with mint sauce and pineapple ice cream.
Parties and whist games were popular diversions in the Monte Cristo parlors. One November evening in 1903, Charles and his wife hosted a stereopticon party for 150 people at the hotel; it was an “illustrated lecture” of the Chicago World’s Fair. It concluded with a social hour of refreshments and a three-person mandolin orchestra.
When trains ran hectic schedules, Charles kept his cool, handling the influx of travelers with deftness. Huge crowds coming in on the trains precipitated the need for emergency (and creative) dining outside the Monte Cristo. The Salida Mail newspaper documented one case here:
“On Wednesday there were two sections of No. 5 and three of No. 1, all large trains and each coach crowded. The depot scene here each day is a lively and interesting one. Many of the trains have no diner and Manager Catlin of the Monte Cristo has arranged eating and refreshment quarters in front of the hotel, where business is transacted in a lively manner from ten to twenty minutes after each train pulls in.”
But the biggest attraction at the Monte Cristo, and the greatest ambassador Salida ever had, was Duke (also known as Buster), the 8-year-old water spaniel who Charles inherited when he assumed management of the hotel.
Duke was special; the Salida Mail observed this of him:
“Everyone knew him and spoke to him as he passed up and down the streets; everybody was his friend. He was a faithful favorite among the commercial traveling men who then made Salida. He was in evidence upon the arrival of all trains and knew all the regular guests of the hotel as they alighted from the trains and greeted them with a smile of recognition.”
When Duke died in 1902, Charles placed his body, bedecked with flowers, in a small coffin. The Monte Cristo staff and guests and the Denver & Rio Grande railroad workers all formed a procession and carried Duke up to his final resting place on Tenderfoot Mountain.
When a Denver newspaperman, who was a frequent traveler to Salida, found out the news, he wrote the following:
“We got back in time to sit round the Monte Cristo hotel for an hour or two waiting for No. 4. The place didn’t seem quite natural, and for some time we couldn’t understand why, but suddenly it popped into our minds that Buster was not attending to duty.
“‘What has become of Buster?’ we asked.
“‘He is dead and buried up there on Tenderfoot Hill.’
“The news shocked us. Buster knew everybody around Salida and counted everybody his friend. He had a way of introducing himself to strangers. We will never forget the first time we met him. He stepped in front of us and surveyed us carefully from head to foot, then he wagged his tail and barked an introduction. We held out our hand and he came to us and rubbed his healthy moist nose alongside of our face. That was enough, we were friends.”
A few months after Duke died, Charles built a trail up to his grave and placed a wooden monument there. He framed Duke’s obituary and his photograph and placed it at the tomb. The following words were inscribed:
In Memory of Duke
A Faithful Dog
of the Monte Cristo Hotel
Died October 29, 1902
With that, a legend was born, and the pilgrimage to Duke’s grave became one of the first things that tourists ventured upon when visiting Salida.
In 1905, the Denver & Rio Grande railroad implemented the dining car system, rendering the Monte Cristo restaurant obsolete. The Monte Cristo was sold to the company that ran the dining cars, and Charles was transferred to Pueblo to work at the Union Depot.
Five years later, Charles returned to Salida and took on a 10-year lease of The Denton (formerly the St. Clair), the swankiest hotel in town. Built in 1890 on the corner of First and E streets, it was four stories high with 88 rooms. It had parlors, billiard rooms, a dining room and a steam-powered elevator. The hotel even had a sewage drainpipe installed, 870 feet long, that connected to the Arkansas River.
Charles hired one of the best chefs in Colorado, Ed Goodnight, and a wait staff that previously worked at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs: “Mr. Catlin cannot fail to make a success of this enterprise, with proper support of Salida people.”
In 1917, Charles was appointed justice of the peace by Chaffee County commissioners. By 1921, Judge Catlin had married 100 couples in Chaffee County:
“He has become so accustomed to the ceremony that he has it thoroughly memorized and he never suffers the least embarrassment even when he feels deep down in his heart one of the ‘high contracting parties’ is getting the worst of the bargain.”
Charles died here in Salida in 1928. In 1941, the Monte Cristo Hotel, along with the Denver & Rio Grande railroad depot, was torn down. The Hotel Denton had been torn down the previous decade.
Joy Jackson is desk clerk and archivist at Salida Regional Library. Follow twitter.com/SalidaArchive to see historic images of Salida.